By Master Sgt. Charles D. Larkin, USAF United States European Command Stuttgart, Germany, May 5, 2015
Three years ago, United States European Command (EUCOM) consolidated several military installations located throughout Europe. As installations closed and buildings were emptied, office furniture, computers, beds, and other furniture and equipment piled up in warehouses, like the one operated by the US-Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in Italy.
Thanks to the efforts of EUCOM and DSCA, some of those items were recently given a new home in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Personnel from the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine, EUCOM officials, and members of local Ukrainian government and non-government organizations gathered at the brand-new Vinnytsia Community Education Center for an inauguration ceremony on April 27.
The project began in 2012 as a request from a local non-government organization. They wanted a resource center in their area to focus on public health and youth education for socially-vulnerable individuals. Additionally, the community center also addresses the problems of internal displaced persons (IDP) and human trafficking. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation — often referred to as a modern-day form of slavery — is a multi-billion dollar criminal activity in Ukraine. Trafficking of women and children for this type of exploitation is a serious problem affecting hundreds of thousands of victims and their families. Continue reading “Three Years, Two Partner Nations, One Mission”→
In mid-September, I had the opportunity to travel to Ukraine to see firsthand the work that USAID is doing to support critical recovery and reform efforts. Not only did I return with a better understanding and appreciation of the programming we are implementing, but also was impressed by the strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people facing the challenging road ahead.During my trip, I had the opportunity to travel to Dnipropetrovsk – only a couple of hundred miles from the conflict zone in the East where thousands of Ukrainians were driven from their homes by the battle between Ukrainian forces and Russia-supported separatists.At a visit to a Dnipropetrovsk center for internally displaced persons (IDPs), organized and run by volunteers, I was awestruck by the outpouring of support and the capacity of Ukrainians from all walks of life to contribute and assist their countrymen.
This center is providing food, clothing and temporary shelter to over 21,000 people pouring into Dnipropetrovsk from the neighboring Donetsk and Luhansk regions. I was able to meet Maria and her young daughter who were forced to leave their home in Horlivka, close to Donetsk and have been in Dnipropetrovsk for a few weeks. While she told me that being displaced is difficult, she was very impressed with the reception provided in Dnipropetrovsk. Maria spends her days volunteering at the center and helping new arrivals.
In early June, the center received around 100 people per day. Now, with more than 300 new arrivals per day, the center needs support.The United States Government, in coordination with the government of Ukraine, has responded to the need to help the roughly 271,000 people displaced by this conflict. This center, and others like it, will receive bedroom furniture and kitchen appliances for new arrivals with nowhere else to go. USAID is also developing plans to refurbish two floors of the center to shelter an additional 200 people.
During Ukraine’s Maidan movement, thousands took a stand against corruption and government abuse to demand a free and democratic Ukraine. Throughout my trip, it became evident that the Ukrainian people are eager to contribute to their new government’s efforts. At one meeting, I entered a room packed with dozens of civil society representatives, many of whom we support to build their organizations’ capacity to advocate for and oversee reform efforts in decentralization, transparency, and health. Not only is their passion and dedication working to hold the government accountable, but many are also working to improve the humanitarian situation in the East by helping the government care for IDPs and even feeding and clothing soldiers. They are truly continuing to fight for the dignity that started on the Maidan and are one of the main reasons I’m hopeful about Ukraine’s future.
Although the Government was not able to pass an anti-corruption bill on September 16th, key officials remain committed to paving the way for a new Ukraine. I had the honor to meet with newly elected Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klychko – some of you might remember Mr. Klychko, who for years reigned as heavyweight boxing champion of the world before entering the Ukrainian political ring. Mr. Klychko is pushing for major reforms in this city of 4 million to address waste and corruption. USAID is redoubling its efforts to partner with the City on its anti-corruption agenda, especially on e-governance, where USAID has recently hired an advisor to assist the city, the Presidential Administration, and the Ministry of Regional Development.
Looking forward, the U.S. Government remains committed to supporting Ukraine in both the short and long term as its leaders make the difficult sacrifices required to build the stable, democratic, and prosperous country its people deserve.
During President Poroshenko’s visit on September 18th, President Obama announced a new package of assistance totaling $53 million and has requested an additional $45 million from Congress in the next fiscal year to support Ukraine. The U.S. Government has provided $291 million in critical assistance this year as well as a $1 billion loan guarantee in May.
USAID, as part of a U.S. Government interagency team, is working closely with local partners and international donors to deliver immediate support to meet Ukraine’s most urgent areas of need. Together, we can help get relief to IDPs and provide humanitarian assistance to the conflict areas in eastern Ukraine.
USAID is making every effort to help Ukraine prepare for the challenges presented by the coming winter, replacing damaged windows to make homes habitable in the cold, and working with the electrical system managers to reduce the dangers of black-outs because of the fuel shortage. We are gearing up to assist in next month’s parliamentary elections to help ensure that the voices of all Ukrainians are heard and represented.
While these pressing needs are being addressed, USAID will continue to help Ukraine make important reforms that are necessary to end corruption, decentralize power, and reform its constitution.
In the longer term, USAID continues to work with the Ukrainian Government to support a prosperous Ukraine, with a stable economy, more productive farms, and greater energy efficiency.
In recent months Ukraine has made great strides in many areas. The Ukrainian Parliament unanimously passed the Association Agreement with the European Union, committing Ukraine to economic, judicial and financial reforms in line with European Union policies and legislation. Ukraine has fulfilled several steps of the Minsk ceasefire agreements necessary to stop the loss of life in Eastern Ukraine. A free and fair presidential election was held in May and the country now prepares for historic parliamentary elections.
Despite these achievements, serious challenges remain.
Even while fighting to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and responding to the pressing needs of its citizens in the short-term, the Ukrainian government cannot forget the message of the Maidan and must follow through on its commitments to fighting corruption, improve the rule of law, and build the transparency and accountability that they promised.
Ukraine is at a critical juncture and if history is any indicator, there is a limited window of time for the Ukrainian Government to make good on these commitments. Only through the passing and implementation of challenging reforms, will Ukraine be successful in the long road ahead. The United States, including USAID, look forward to remaining a strong and committed partner in this journey.
Washington — The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is providing an additional $1.25 million to the U-MEDIA program in Ukraine, a project of Internews and its Ukrainian partner organizations aimed at supporting Ukrainian media outlets as they prepare for the Ukrainian presidential election on May 25.
Members of the media in Ukraine have faced serious challenges and dangers over the past several months, USAID said in announcing the grant on its website May 2. More than 500 journalists have been harassed, beaten or abducted since November 2013, and one journalist was killed. Media outlets have been attacked and news-gathering equipment has been seized or destroyed, USAID said.
“USAID supports a strong and independent media in Ukraine,” said Paige Alexander, USAID assistant administrator for the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia. “This additional funding will help to protect vulnerable journalists while also advancing press freedoms and democratic governance in Ukraine.”
USAID supports respect for universal values around the world as central to its mission to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies. The agency’s work is committed to increasing awareness, creating strong legal foundations for independent media and civil society, improving government responsiveness to constituents and supporting platforms for free and open communications.
USAID said these new funds will support a number of activities:
• Webinars on media rights and responsibilities will be conducted in preparation for the presidential and local election campaigns, and regional training seminars will be conducted on journalistic legal and professional standards during an election. Voter education public service announcements will be produced and distributed to media outlets across Ukraine.
• Joint public forums and town hall discussions will cover constitutional reform in the context of the presidential election, political processes between the expected rounds one and two of the election, analysis of candidate platforms, local election procedures, Ukrainian unity and implications of European Union integration.
• Assistance will be provided to 1st Ukrainian Channel and a local foundation to produce and broadcast debates between the presidential candidates, as well as post-debate webcasts.
• Cross-regional exchanges will link 45 journalists, editors and bloggers to increase information available to citizens about political reforms, economic and social issues, and the May 25 presidential elections. Small grants for content production will be provided to cover news events, and the creation of regional news and information Web portals and live webcasts.
• Physical and digital security training will be provided for journalists, including best practices for safe Internet and mobile communications use, as well as how to avoid or disengage from dangerous situations when covering civil unrest.
USAID said it is supporting the government of Ukraine as it implements constitutional and electoral reforms that fulfill its stated goal of becoming a fully inclusive and economically stable democracy. The U.S. government has invested $11.4 million to support a transparent and democratic election process in Ukraine. Programs support improvements to the electoral framework; voter education and civic participation; transparent and effective election administration; open and responsive political competition; effective oversight of election processes; election security and redress of infractions; and a diverse, balanced and policy-focused media environment.
Technology is becoming increasingly important in all public services, but especially libraries. In an age where economic, educational, health, and social opportunities depend more and more on access to the Internet, lack of access means lack of opportunity.
Microsoft decided that the USAID Bibliomist project was a great opportunity to partner with USAID, the International Research and Exchanges Board, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Library Association to spur the evolution of Ukraine’s libraries into modern information resource and community centers. Microsoft donated $9 million in software to Ukraine’s public libraries as part of its global initiative to endow communities with accessible and useful technology. Today Bibliomist can proudly state that it has helped revive 10 percent of Ukraine’s libraries and firmly planted the seeds to rejuvenate many more. Only through such a broad-based partnership could such an endeavor be realized.
Libraries are sources not only of books but also information, so their importance is not waning. Libraries can use technology in a variety of ways. For instance, by supporting public access computers, we help ensure that those who do not have computers available to them at home, work, or school can still benefit from this critical technology. Using technology, libraries can also provide benefits to the community as a whole. For instance, libraries are well positioned to develop community assessments, which are studies that help a community identify its needs and then determine how to go about meeting them.
Today Ukraine’s public libraries are working diligently to close both the digital and the opportunity gap: from giving free classes on resume-building to providing free access to technology. They are striving to provide services and workshops that address essential community needs, from increasing electoral literacy to promoting healthy lifestyles. As libraries discover better ways to deliver information via new media platforms and improve operational efficiencies, they will have a greater impact on a broader population.
In supporting Ukraine’s libraries, our expectation is that Microsoft technologies will be a resource that both municipalities and local community groups will be able to use in their efforts to bridge the digital divide and make their communities stronger.
Although there is much still to do, we’re inspired by what we’ve seen while working with Ukrainians: people taking the lead in changing not only their lives but the lives of those around them, making a real impact in their local communities and in Ukraine in general.
It is New Year’s Eve at a prison in Ukraine and men stand around in a large cell, sharing a single blunt, filthy syringe as they mutilate their arms to inject drugs. “The scene is typical of Ukrainian prisons,” explained an ex-inmate who wished to remain unnamed.
In Ukraine, prison inmates often participate in risky behaviors that contribute to the spread of HIV. Some prisoners use old syringes over and over. Others manufacture their own injecting tools using pens and plastic tubes. Still others tattoo their bodies using non-sterile instruments or have unprotected sex with fellow inmates or visitors.
A recent USG funded survey of 1,300 prison inmates shows that HIV prevalence among inmates is more than 13 percent (10 percent among men and 33 percent among women), 20 times higher than in the general population. Forty-four percent of those surveyed reported injecting drugs during their lives and 17 percent admitted using drugs while in prison.
The state penitentiary service in Ukraine has been slow to implement Ukraine’s National AIDS policies. Only 60 of Ukraine’s 183 prisons receive HIV/AIDS treatment supplies. Poor prison conditions and abusive practices by prison staff increase inmate vulnerability to infection and sometimes obstruct treatment for HIV positive prisoners. Harm reduction services such as syringe exchanges, opiate substitution therapy, and even HIV testing are either not available or offered inconsistently.
After leaving prison, injecting drug users face challenges that may lead them to transmit HIV; many have no home, no job, and poor knowledge of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
USG is partnering with the government of Ukraine and other international donors to address these tough issues with a two-pronged approach, and things are slowing beginning to change.
First, USG’s Project Start is collaborating with Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice to implement a HIV/STI/Hepatitis C risk-reduction program for inmates who are soon to be released. It begins two months before they leave prison and continues for three months after their release. The program includes seven one-on-one sessions with each client, providing a range of counseling and prevention strategies tailored to each individual.
Second, USG’s PLEDGE Project, implemented in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is promoting systemic change in Ukraine’s penitentiaries by advocating new harm-reduction policies through Ukraine’s legislature and directly with prison authorities.
Through USG efforts on the legislative side, a Joint Order for the treatment of detained persons was recently created with Ukraine’s Ministries of Health, Interior, and Justice. Also with USG support, Ukraine developed and approved a comprehensive National Anti-Drug Strategy. The strategy demonstrates a shift from previously repressive measures to a more human-rights-based approach for people who inject drugs, promoting increased coverage and accessibility for syringe exchanges, opiate substitution therapy and integrated services to address HIV/TB, Hepatitis C, and other related diseases.
Finally, USG, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program and UNAIDS, has developed comprehensive HIV services for pilot prisons, including education about drug use for prisoners and prison staff.
This past July Serhiy Zinchenko, head of the Ukraine State Penitentiary Service Personnel Department, expressed the government’s new found support for a comprehensive approach to HIV/AIDS when he stated “We now understand the need to improve the situation in this sphere. It is important to learn international standards for treatment of prisoners, in particular related to their right to health care.”
Some of us are fortunate enough to have a transformational experience that changes us forever. I had such an experience while participating in designing and implementing the pilot Judicial Administration Certificate Program in Ukraine. Working with the USAID FAIR Justice Project in partnership with Ukraine’s State Judicial Administration and the National School of Judges of Ukraine, we delivered the first academic-based court administration program in Ukraine. It is a great example of how partnerships between governments, academia and development can lead to real change.
With the 2010 adoption of Ukraine’s Law on the Judiciary and the Status of Judges, court administrators were given broader responsibilities and more autonomy to manage courts. Much confusion over who was responsible for what in court operations accompanied the change. The newly defined court administrators found themselves stymied by a lack of clear professional qualification requirements, incomplete understanding of the parameters of court administration, conflicting definitions of responsibilities and authorities, and limited professional development opportunities. USAID recognized these issues and saw them as opportunities to facilitate court reform utilizing best practices in contemporary court administration, thus improving access to justice for Ukrainians.
Michigan State University (MSU) faculty members joined with Ukrainian faculty members to develop the subject matter and teaching materials. The program consisted of 10 courses from the MSU Judicial Administration Certificate Program with ample adaptations and additions to ensure that the Ukrainian context was represented. Program participants were competitively selected from among court administrators across Ukraine. Together the newly formed MSU-Ukrainian faculty engaged in team teaching all 10 courses, which covered the internationally-recognized core competencies developed by the National Association for Court Management. The recent result of these efforts was the June 12, 2013, graduation ceremony for 40 graduates of the Ukraine Pilot Court Administration Certificate Program. Many of the students reported at the graduation that they had already achieved noticeable results back in their home courts, with more expected.
In 2014 we expect to graduate another class of court managers. Ukraine’s National School of Judges has agreed to continue the classes after that, which makes me certain that the country is on its way to a new generation of court administrators skilled in the most current management methods.
From the moment I met the USAID FAIR team and discussed the possibility of bringing the MSU Judicial Administration Program to Ukraine, I sensed there was something qualitatively different about this experience. It wasn’t just about education. It wasn’t just about systems improvement. It wasn’t just about overcoming the challenges and doing the work at break-neck speed. It was also about whether a partnership as unusual as the one we were to form could succeed. It surpassed my expectations.
Through the months that we – the entire USAID FAIR Justice Project family, the students, and the instructors spent together, our mission and desires coalesced in a way that made our collective human spirit soar. The Ukrainian judiciary and people are better for it. We have created true leaders for the present and the future. It doesn’t get any better than that. I look forward to continuing our relationship.
The forests of Chornobyl present a unique problem. For more than 25 years, forestry management activities, such as thinning and clearing brush, which reduce wildfire severity and maintain forest productivity, have been curtailed by the hazards of radioactivity. As a result, the build-up of dead trees and dense undergrowth in the forest increases the likelihood of a catastrophic wildfire, smoke from which could transport radionuclides to populated areas in Ukraine and neighboring countries.
Since 2006, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has been working with the government of Ukraine to look at innovative ways to not only effectively manage the forests, but increase the capability of on-the-ground emergency staff to respond to fire and other emergencies that occur in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. Fire and forestry specialists from the U.S. and Ukraine are working together to determine ways to restore forests to safer conditions; identify the potential risks of inaction; and prepare for the increasing probability of fires in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.
Scientists can now predict the amounts of smoke and possible radioactive contaminants emitted from potential forest fires. The next step is for Ukrainian and U.S. Forest Service specialists to determine weather patterns, the amount of fuel and its location, and other factors, in order to identify and model wildfire intensity and the potential for the spread of radioactive contaminants to populations in Ukraine and Europe. This, in turn, will allow forest managers to target thinning and brush cleanup to strategic locations, maximizing effects of fire mitigation activities and minimizing the high costs associated with such work in contaminated areas.
With this information, fire fighters will be equipped to better understand fire behavior and undertake forest management measures and fire suppression actions and reduce the size, intensity, and duration of fires and minimize the potential for the spread of radioactive contamination. Such research and management actions have been at the forefront of the USFS’s strategy to mitigate the effects of wildfire in the United States. Effectively applying this information, however, requires a standardized system capable of integrating actions and information. One such system is the U.S. Forest Service Incident Command System.
Working with other partners, the USFS uses the Incident Command System (ICS)—an emergency/disaster response system that evolved from a wildfire response system developed by the USFS and state and local partners in California in the 1970s. Over the past 30 years, ICS expanded and was adopted nationally to manage the federal response for many types of emergencies including earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and human-caused incidents. The ICS is even used to organizing large scale events, like the Olympics.
The USFS is well equipped to provide support for such all-hazard response and is frequently tapped to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). With thousands of fires each year, the agency gets much of its ICS training and experience during actual emergency situations. As a result, the USFS has a long history of working with state, county, and local governments, as well as U.S. embassies around the world to build disaster management capacity to prepare for future disasters.
In July 2012, with support from USAID, two USFS experts provided a 3-day overview of the Incident Command System to more than 40 emergency response personnel in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. The trainers and Chornobyl emergency response staff discussed some of the challenges of utilizing a locally-based response system in Ukraine. With a centralized, top-down approach to emergency response, integrating new methods like those of the ICS system would prove challenging in Ukraine. Based on these conversations, the U.S. Forest Service International Programs office invited a delegation of high level officials from the Ukrainian government to the United States to learn more about the ICS, the evolution of policy to support it, and how it was altered following lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina.
In November 2012, with the support of USAID and technical assistance from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, the U.S. Forest Service hosted a team of six high level officials from the Ministry of Emergencies and the State Agency for Forest Resources of Ukraine to the United States to learn more about the U.S. model of coordinated emergency response. USFS personnel provided background information about the National Incident Management System (NIMS), the ICS, ICS programs abroad, and the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Presenters also demonstrated the framework in which federal, state, and local agencies work together in emergency response situations.
The idea that control always remains with the local community was quite a radical concept to the delegation. Federal agencies provide support only when invited, and even then in a subordinate role. One reason for this is that local residents are better connected to local resources and have existing relationships that may not be available at the federal level. Such a system relies on local ability and coordinating policies at all levels of government. It also requires stakeholder participation and development of community relationships in order to provide a stronger, quicker and organized response.
The delegates were able to piece all of these elements together from visits to emergency response entities in Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Georgia, giving them a better understanding of the value of the local locus of control and a locally coordinated ICS approach. The group visited New Jersey and New York, where they met with representatives from FEMA, the U.S. Forest Service, Incident Support Teams, and others from around the country who had come together to support the local response to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated much of the Eastern seaboard in these two states.
It has taken many years for the NIMS/ICS to evolve within the United States. Much of what U.S. officials and responders learned from past mistakes have become integral to the success of NIMS/ICS today. The ICS has been adopted by a number of countries outside the United States and these countries have been able to adapt their local realities to the system. Having a shared emergency response framework provides a unique opportunity for multinational collaboration, which can be particularly useful during emergency situations with global implications like that of Chornobyl. By using a coordinated system, responders are better equipped to reduce loss of life, decrease economic impact, and diminish the effect of compounded, prolonged impact of disasters.
Building on past collaboration, the USFS plans to continue working with USAID, other offices of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, the Ukrainian government, and the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences (NULES) in Kyiv to find solutions and alternatives to emergency response and risk mitigation. However, new partners are welcome, and necessary. As in the United States, such emergency response will require the support of national institutions and local communities alike. The U.S. Forest Service looks forward to continued collaboration to find ways to reduce the threat of fires in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone and work together for multinational collaboration on all-hazards emergency response.